If I hadn’t made one massive mistake when I owned my own company, I’d probably still be doing it. In fact, I’d like to think I’d be doing really well at it. But I fell into the same trap that so many other startup entrepreneurs stumble into – I tried to be like everyone else.
My thought at the time was, “If it’s working for them, why shouldn’t it work for me?” If they were running ads in an industry-specific publication, then I should be too, right? If they were showing up at expos, then that’s where I would go?
As a result, to the outside world, there was nothing remarkable about my business. And it took a friend of mine who was wildly succeeded at his own small business to make me see that.
It wasn’t anything particularly remarkable that he did – he just figured out a way to think outside of his market and by doing so, he boosted his sales by about 300%.
In my friend’s case, the challenge was selling custom paddle boards in a flooded market. When he first started, he was going to every watersports expo he could find and inevitably, would be competing with the same group of paddleboard vendors. He was just about to give up when a thought struck him – paddle boarding is a sport that the outdoorsy-type enjoy, but it’s not the only sport they enjoy. People who paddleboard probably also like to go mountain biking, rock climbing, hiking, etc.
With that in mind, he began signing up for outdoor sports expos in the mountains, hundreds of miles from the closest body of water – and he began selling paddleboards like crazy.
Pattern interrupts are the key to standing out in crowded markets. Instead of imitating what your competitors are doing, take notes on their marketing habits and then try doing exactly the opposite.
You’re undoubtedly familiar with local accident injury attorney ads on television. A string of ads with smiling lawyers promising checks for your wrecks. If I were to get injured, I wouldn’t know which one to call because they all seem the same. But I’ll tell you who I do remember – the attorney who gave the local car repair shop a stack of $20 Uber gift certificates for customers whose cars are out of commission. I’ll not only remember her but if I got that gift certificate after a bad wreck, she’d probably be the first person I’d call.
The point is that you’ll be far more successful in your marketing if you think outside of your competitors’ approach. Study your competition – where are they marketing, how are they marketing, when are they marketing - and then turn it upside down.
Here are some suggestions:
- Study your competition. Finding and exploiting holes in their business model is a great way to set your company apart. If your services are the same as your competitions’ be innovative in creating the difference -- respond to your customer quicker, deliver your product differently, provide a free gift. Do what you do – plus.
- Become the authority in your field. Establishing yourself as the authority in your field is how you’ll able to dominate your competition. Give free advice on your local radio station. Attend and, if possible, speak at social clubs and industry events where your target audience is. Write an op-ed or a book. Authority marketing doesn’t require that you become wildly famous — just slightly famous in your marketplace.
- Define your audience. Determine your specific niche market and reach out to just them. You can’t be all things to all people.
- Create offers and guarantees that are too hard to ignore; add so much value that it’s hard to say no. A free class, a free trial, two-for-one. And solid guarantees will encourage new customers to take a chance on you.
- Create a cause marketing effort. Consumers want to know you're a good corporate citizen. Look for a nonprofit organization whose mission is related to what you're doing. Or engage your customers and allow them to select the charity.
- Don’t underestimate the power of personal contact. Send handwritten thank you notes. Learn your customers’ birthdays and send greetings. With this kind of visceral connection, you’ll have a customer for life.
- Be sincere – and funny. These days in particular people want to know they’re not being ‘sold.’ However you communicate with them, avoid trite salesman talk – smart customers will see right through that. And use humor. Customers will remember you if you make them laugh.
How do you differentiate yourself in the market? Are you constantly thinking of unique ways to get your name, brand, and product in front of your target audience, or are you still following in the footsteps of your competition? If you are still following footsteps, don’t you think it’s time to start making your own path?
Keith Kopcsak is the Vice-Chair of the Entrepreneurial practice at ForbesBooks and Advantage Media Group in Charleston, S.C, where he helps business entrepreneurs and executives build an authority brand and position themselves as the unquestioned leaders in their field.